After Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, comes Cyber Monday.
It’s important to shop smart and avoid getting ripped off or having your personal information stolen, according to Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.
Frosh suggested that you make sure that any website you enter payment information on is secure, and beware of clicking on any advertisements found in emails, third-party websites, or on social media. Additionally, online retailers should be paid by credit card, not gift cards, cash transfers, or sending money. A credit card company may be able to help you with a dispute.
Frosh is hosting a virtual consumer forum on holiday scam prevention in partnership with AARP-Maryland this Wednesday at noon. Links are available on the AG’s Twitter and Facebook pages.
Further advice below was provided by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office:
Make sure the website you enter payment information on is secure. You should never send personal information or payments through a website if the address does not start with “https” – the “s” at the end means your confidential information is secure.
Beware of clicking on any advertisements found in emails, on a third party website, or on social media. Scammers frequently lure consumers through social media or email to bogus websites, which are set to steal personal and / or financial information, or might spread malware onto your computer.
Avoid paying online retailers with gift cards, cash transfers, or sending cash. If possible, use a credit card to shop online. If you have a dispute with the retailer, the credit card company can help you resolve it.
Look for the retailer. Check online reviews to see if the retailer has a good reputation and satisfied customers. Is there an easy way to contact customer service if there is a problem? If not, you might want to consider another retailer.
Buy gift cards only from trusted sources. Cards sold by individuals or on auction sites are often found to be stolen or counterfeit. Buying gift cards directly from the company is always a safe option. Pop-up ads, text messages, emails or social media posts offering free gift cards can be scams aimed at stealing your personal information, spreading malware, or trick you into disclosing your financial information. .
If you’re shopping in person this year, there are more ways to protect yourself and make smart choices.
Check the retailer’s refund policy. A retailer is allowed to set their return or exchange policy, as long as they post the policy or print it on the receipt. The refund rule states that if a store imposes limits on refunds or returns, the merchant must disclose their policy in writing so that consumers are aware of the policy before making their purchases. This rule does not apply to food and perishable goods or to goods that have been custom-made for the purchaser or custom-modified.
Buy an “experience” gift? Read all contracts carefully. If you purchase a service that requires a contract for a giveaway, find out if you can cancel the contract if it isn’t used and what penalties, if any, you will incur if you cancel. Be aware that some contracts will renew automatically at the end of the initial period, unless you notify the company within a certain period of time that you do not wish to renew.
Should we avoid “shutting down” sales? Not necessarily, but you might be unknowingly buying substandard merchandise and it might not be the bargain you think it is. In this case, it is worth comparing prices, as the item you are considering may in fact be available for a lower price elsewhere. And if sales are final, which is often the case during closing sales, you won’t be able to return or exchange it.
Remember, if something you buy doesn’t work, you can return it. Even if a store displays a “no refund, no exchange” policy in Maryland your purchase is covered by an implied warranty, a guarantee that the item will work when you buy it. If you buy a defective item, contact the seller first. If they refuse to refund or replace your merchandise, contact the Consumer Protection Division.
For more information on secure online shopping, read our “Smart Home Shopping” Consumer Advantage. The Maryland Attorney General’s Office offers free publications, including Consumer’s Edge, to educate consumers. A complete list of publications is available at https://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/CPD/Tips-Publications/edunit.aspx. Consumers are encouraged to download, reproduce and share these publications.